As I pulled into my bank's parking lot this morning I remembered I meant to put on lipstick before leaving home. While digging in my purse for the tube, I remembered something I'd read recently about ways we women can reduce our chances of being attacked and/or raped. One of the suggestions was to not linger in your car once arriving at your destination. Not to put on lipstick (gulp), brush your hair, etc. Apparently predators roam around just looking for someone who is caught up in her own little world, oblivious for the amount of time it takes to refresh makeup, brush hair or make a quick call.
I made sure all my doors were locked before hurrying to apply my lipstick. Once outside of the car I recalled another safety tip: look confident, perhaps even a little threatening. Walk with confidence, keep your head up, avoid giving the impression that you're anxious about being out and about on your own.
Decades ago I couldn't have pulled it off. Decades ago I was scared and full of anxiety. My confidence level was a big fat zero. I'm sure that wherever I went alone I exuded not the confident strides of a strong female in charge of her life, but the hesitant steps of a victim fearing what lay around every corner.
I strode into the bank, no doubt looking a bit fierce as I pondered these things, for it angered me to think about how weak and anxious I used to be. Oh, I would practically have welcomed someone trying something with me this morning! No more mousie me, uh-uh.
Wasn't I the one who, on several occasions, packed up 5 sons and fled an abusive situation? Impossible, is what it seemed in the beginning. A pipe dream at best. How could I, with little income and 5 little lives dependent on me, and nowhere to go, simply flee? But I did. I was terrified, but it turns out I was more terrified of staying with an abusive man.
Looking back over my life, I see that I didn't become fearless all at once. And maybe no one ever is. I was shaking in my shoes as time and again I made tentative plans to run for my life. What if my boyfriend or hubby got wind of my plans and beat me senseless, or worse? Was I acting differently, tipping him off by my uncharacteristic behavior? Was I perhaps being strident where before I'd always come across as passive and diffident?
Apparently I could be fierce for the sake of my kids. But when I had need to go somewhere on my own, especially after dark, my anxiety rose. Every time I ventured out of my comfort zone and made it safely home again I felt as if I'd gotten away with something; I felt that I'd probably just used up my last free safety pass and that soon, very soon, what I feared most would happen.
I can't look back at my younger self with contempt. She doesn't deserve that. I think of those blurry years and all they contained of sorrow, fear and shame and I'm amazed to be here at all. If anything, I feel for her a grudging respect. I don't know how she did it. I don't know how she made it through that maze of trepidation. I don't know how any of us do it. It occurs to me now that I wasn't fierce only during those times of exposing myself to the world. What about the years of being a single mom? If that doesn't take courage and a bit of ferocity at times, I don't know what does.
Today I thought of myself as being, at times, fierce, and though initially it made me smile I think it's an apt description of part of who I am. I may not be fierce all the time, and there isn't need to be. But when it counts something kicks in: something a lot like savage courage.
I may be little, but I'm fierce!